Washington Marijuana Regulators Change Rule to Appease Feds

By Amy Radil

Responding to federal concerns, the Washington State Liquor Control Board says it will change its rules on where marijuana retail stores can be located. The change aligns Washington state rules with federal law. Officials say that makes retail store owners less vulnerable to prosecution.

If someone sells drugs within 1,000 feet of a school, they can receive a stiffer sentence under federal law. In developing rules for legal marijuana, Washington state regulators tried to depart slightly from that federal rule. They allowed stores to count the 1,000 feet along sidewalks or roads, rather than “as the crow flies.” The change would have created more legal locations for pot stores. But now the state is backtracking.

Rick Garza heads the Washington State Liquor Control Board. He says local U.S. Attorneys made clear they will still enforce their definition of the 1,000 foot rule. If the state differs, that could get licensed retail stores in trouble.

Garza: “They just simply made it clear that the measure that we’re using is not a measurement that they’re using, and they will enforce their measurement.”

Garza says his agency is issuing an “emergency rule” to bring its regulations back in line with the federal definition. The emergency rule keeps Washington on track to open its first marijuana retail stores next summer.

Aspiring marijuana retailer John Davis also heads the Coalition for Cannabis Standards and Ethics. He says marijuana stores should have enough legal storefronts, despite the tightening of regulations. And Davis says they are determined to make the state’s new market work.

Davis: “In those areas where we’re allowed to open, we’ll show that the sky doesn’t fall, that there are not community problems, that it’s not associated with an increase in youth use or youth availability, and it’ll be a first baby step.”

Davis says on the whole he’s encouraged by the fact that federal officials have reviewed Washington’s regulatory scheme and signed off on most of it. In August, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that state regulatory schemes for marijuana will be allowed to proceed. Washington expects to finalize its rules and start accepting applications for licenses in November.
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